1

Antoine Picon, French Architects and Engineers in the Age of Enlightenment (Cambridge: University Press, 1992).

2

Pier Vittorio Aureli, The City as a Project (Berlín: Ruby Press, 2013), 30.

3

Let’s make Oxford Street great again!

Pedestrianization Project of Oxford Street, 2017, London

(…) Even the most moral would admit that this bustling, tacky, and tasteless street reminds us that life is a battle, that every building is perishable, that every exhibition is futile. — Virginia Woolf, Oxford Street Tide, 1932.

Since last June when Westminster definitively rejected the plans of the pedestrianization of Oxford Street , a debate has been opened where it seems like everyone seems to at least agree upon the fact that currently “Oxford Street is nothing more than an uban nightmare.” And, as it stands, not even the giant commercial centers of  Westfield, nor internet sales, have been able to eclipse the street that, with more than 300 shops in nearly two kilometers, receives, on average, half a million visitors every day.

Named by the Romans Via Trinobantina and, in the middle ages, Tybum Road, Oxford Street forms part of the main road that connects Essex with Hampshire. In the 17th century it was the road that prisoners took to the gallows (situated on Tyburn Tree, where today Marble Arch is located), until the 18th century when a great part of the terrain was acquired by the Duke of Oxford (pertaining to the Harley family) and, as part of the speculative development produced in the Georgian era(Cavendish Square, Henrietta Place, etc.), made up of Oxford Road, previously Oxford Street, whose development was to be completed between 1813 and 1825, with the opening of Regent Street, designed by John Nash.

However, it wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that Oxford Street, as a reflection of the consumerist society, would establish itself as a commercial enclave, slowly clearing out the population to make way for great warehouses: John Lewis (1864), Debenhams (1870), Selfridges (1909), House of Fraser (1932), y Marks & Spencer (1938).

Pedestrianization was set to be the solution to crime, accidents, noise, and high levels of contamination, as stated in Sir Colin Buchanan’s report in the seventies. As Patrik Schumacher argued through his “Walkable London” project, throughout all of Europe a new tendency can be observed towards the pedestrianization of entire districts. However, this continuous option divides public opinion. As noted by Bryan Avery (1944-2017) “pedestrianization is ideal, but unless a better way to accommodate the 75 bus routes that cross Oxford Street is discovered, these routes must be incorporated as forming part of any project.’ The architect reaffirms his proposal from the eighties in which he suggested that buses and taxis incorporate themselves by means of a special elevated lane. But, what really stood out was when Pierre Patte (1723-1814) published his famous Street Section in 1769, “the street,” as described by Antoine Picon, “converted itself into a machine that was capable of regulating various flows: from the flow of water to traffic flow.1” That’s why this section represents the radical change that was produced in the 18th century which revolved around the city’s design, and “would not only manifest itself through a figurative form, but rather also through a series of generic protocols which do not respond to a belief nor to an ideology,” as they are “the height of rooms, the provision of drainage, or the maintenance and cleaning of the street.2

Here is where the principal problem of diffused rendering by the Sadiq Khan urbanologists (cover image) or the publications of the Schumacher office reside. They only show what appears to be a surface covered with artificial grass, enormous flowerpots, and Christmas lights, but there is a lack of all of the protocols capable of solving the inner problems of the infrastructure for what it is in today’s world: one of the most important centers which unifies the eastern and western zones of the city. Behind the superficial beauty of these images, they avoid revealing the true complexity that a formal city project requires, what in modern times seems to be reduced to mere propagandist and economic interests. In hiding an entire series of problems, not only the transparency which a detailed study that any architectural proposal entails is evaded, but rather a critical debate over the city project; and it suggests pedestrianization as more of a tendency rather than a solution, which without doubt, should be accepted as the only alternative for urban regeneration.


Text translated by: Kaitlyn P. Delaney

Notas de página
1

Antoine Picon, French Architects and Engineers in the Age of Enlightenment (Cambridge: University Press, 1992).

2

Pier Vittorio Aureli, The City as a Project (Berlín: Ruby Press, 2013), 30.

3
Autor:
Arquitecto, vive y trabaja en Londres. Doctor por la ETSAUN (Pamplona), MA en History & Critical Thinking por la Architectural Association School of Architecture (Londres). María ha participado en distintas conferencias internacionales y ha sido también profesor ayudante de la ETSAUN, “Visiting Lecturer” en la School of Creative Arts de la Universidad de Hertfordshire (Hatfield, RU) y crítico invitado en la Architectural Association (Londres, RU).

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